Tuesday, December 9, 2008

An Obama National Security Council

Since 1947 amidst Harry S Truman's presidency, the National Security Council (NSC) was born out of the military and intelligence interagency disorganization post WWII. In 1949, the NSC became the sole province of the president. By law, the National Security Act, this creature exclusive to the White House the NSC remains unmonitored by Congress and operates as a president chooses in matters pertaining to national security and foreign policy with some mandated participation. A National Security Adviser (NSA) is appointed by the president. The role oversees portfolios of regional or specific interest depending on the president's choice and mitigates between major cabinet officers (principals) and ideas that may have jurisdictional overlap. The real power is the Deputies meetings or the surrogates sent by the main principals to get into the fine detail in the conference rooms allocated off the White House's semi-secret Sit Room.

A six foot five inch four star combat tested former marine commandant, Jim Jones, is the President Obama selection. The President-Elect has authorized Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, Greg Craig as Counsel to the president and Lawrence Summers in his capacity as Assistant to the President fon Economic Policy to participate in the 2009 United States National Security Council. In spite of being part of Bush's war council, Robert gates remains atop the military industrial complex as the SecDef and a top spot on the NSC battling Clinton among others for resources and policy supremacy. General Jones is the lead arbitrator before it gets to the president's desk.

Sometimes the president is forced to "redo" his NSC in the middle of a term. Why? Because they have usually committed a terrible wrong that leaves the nation and the world aghast. Not likely one might say in Obama world -snicker. In sixty years, NOT one president escaped unscathed from not watching the NSC more closely. The bet is when, not if, Obama gets into trouble with his. History beckons and Obama's name will either be in smaller font or writ large depending on
what the issue is he wrangles with and gambles on the wrong person. That's when he's going to need all the political friends he made because he will build up a reservoir of Goodwill. He is smart like that.

In the White House there are 5,000 square feet of first rate technology including cell sensors in the cieling and the best military minds dedicated to crisis management and day to day intelligence activities. CNN's show The Situation Room is named after this collection of rooms inside the White House. The Sit Room is where the president discusses domestic emergencies, planning for pending military action or response to a global crisis. Those familiar with Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing TV show will immediately recognize the room. It was beautifully rehabbed during George W. Bush's 2nd term in 2007 with wainscoting lower on sliding padded walls to receive better transmission of secure communications than the prior mahogany covered walls did during the Clinton administration. Three secure conference rooms, plastic phone booths for calls and direct communication with Air Force One increase the Sit Room complex's functionality and capabilities. There are over 33 LCD monitors and 32 hookups that allow multiple simultaneous conference call capability. All that fancy hardware is needed to manage the threats and the fast growing cyber security incursions.

The NSC has a collection of people considered principals. Getting on the permanent principals list is at the sole discretion of the president. One ofthe layers below the principals is made up of their second in commands or in DC parlance, Deputy blah blah Undersecretary of the Molehill region.Usually, the presidents are the Main Man, Vice president, Secretary of Defense,Secretary of State, Director of National Intelligence or the CIA Director, and the National Security Adviser who chairs the meeting and directs traffic. Condoleeza Rice was George Bush's 1st term NSA and she was awful. Regan's second term guy who waded in and cleaned up the Iran Contra mess, was Colin Powell. Whoever gets that chair in an Obama Administration needs to be the consummate professional that cannot be pushed around by the big guns on the NSC.

Richard Clarke, the upstanding hard edged intel NSC guy sets the scene here:
On the ground level of the West Wing of the White House, a dozen men and women trickle into the wood-paneled Situation Room. They balance thick briefing books and cups of hot coffee from the White House Mess next door. The meeting's chairman, a member of the National Security Council staff, brings to order this gathering of the Counterterrorism Security Group, the committee that coordinates U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Behind and above his chair is the seal of the president of the United States.

"All right, let's get going," the NSC man intones. "President Obama wants a high-level
game plan for counterterrorism efforts in 2009. First, we need the intelligence picture." The NSC staffer turns to the woman sitting to his left, who works in the National Counterterrorism Center.

"Well, as we said in the recent National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism, we had a break for a while after we smashed the al-Qaida sanctuary in Afghanistan after 9/11," she begins. "But now al-Qaida has reconstituted itself in the Pakistani tribal areas, right along the border with Afghanistan. The Pakistani army tries every once in a while to rein them in, but essentially, they're just too weak to gain control of the Wild West border areas. Al-Qaida is busy training terrorists up there, including Europeans and Asians, people who could slip into the United States without arousing suspicion. And al-Qaida is also developing another sanctuary in Somalia, where their local allies have been taking over Somali cities. It's not a soothing picture. We could see al-Qaida attacks in 2009 on the Arabian Peninsula, in Europe, even here at home. But of course, we have no actionable intelligence pointing to a specific plot."
Back to the trouble president's get in. Nobody likes telling a president no. Harry Truman Korea, Dwight Eisenhower is the best to date that pulled together an NSC that was stellar, but a certain pilot was shot down while spying over Russia and trainers were parachuted into Indochina in a former French colony. There was the NSC's fingerprints all over the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Kissinger & Pol Pot among others, China, Iran Contra, WHIG or Bush's White House Iraq Group an off shoot of the NSC that set up to market the war. Time will tell whether the error will be a combination of haste and sloppiness or a personal hubris on the part of his team or horrible circumstance that will bring the NSC to the public's attention in an Obama administration.

The only expert to write a book with scholarly dimensions but wickedly funny asides on the NSA came in a truly fascinating 2006 book from David Rothkopf. Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power traces the NSA from gestation to now with a look at the internecine connections amongst those who serve the public good (usually) inside the NSA.

This part of The Transition Series to the presidency of Barack Obama.
(please not the posts at the link above are stored by date)

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